This year’s Oscar ceremony was all about the Slap.
Don’t get me wrong. No one got slapped during the ceremony. No one got yelled at. There wasn’t any major controversy at all, beyond the question of whether Everything Everywhere All At Once actually deserved all of those Oscars. Most of the awards speeches were nice. Ke Huy Quan was a highlight, calling his story “an American dream.” Much as when Gary Oldman praised America upon winning his Oscar for Best Actor, you could tell the audience at the ceremony wasn’t sure how to react to unironic praise of America but I can promise you that his speech touched the hearts of almost everyone watching. Compared to previous ceremonies, there wasn’t a lot of political blathering and the orchestra did its job and kept people from rambling on for too long. Obviously, the Academy learned its lesson from the Soderbergh Oscars and that guy who wouldn’t shut up about his octopus.
That said, from the start, it was obvious that The Slap and preventing another incident was on everyone’s mind. As opposed to last year’s Oscars, the entire ceremony felt tightly controlled. Jimmy Kimmel kept his jokes light and only poked fun at people who didn’t show for the ceremony, like James Cameron and Tom Cruise. Amongst the presenters, there was a definite lack of comedians or, really, anyone who might threaten to go off script and say something controversial. The show was carefully constructed to keep anything shocking from happening and, as a result, it was a bit dull. For all the drama and controversy that surrounded the Slap, it was probably one of the few truly spontaneous moments that we’ve seen on the Oscars. Certainly, more people talked about the Slap last year than are going to be talking the ceremony this year.
This year was safe and boring, though it was never as downright dull as the Soderbergh Oscars. Most of the victories felt inevitable. I guess the biggest upset was Jamie Lee Curtis winning Best Supporting Actress over Angela Bassett. (Though I appreciated that Curtis epitomized everything that normal people hate about the IRS, I was rooting for Kerry Condon.) There was a brief moment of excitement when it seemed like All Quiet On The Western Front might upset Everything Everywhere All At Once but that ended up as soon as All Quiet lost the Adapted Screenplay Oscar to Women Talking.
As far as the speeches go, Ke Huy Quan won the evening by giving a genuine, heartfelt acceptance speech. The Daniels got to give three acceptance speeches and they both seemed to get just a little bit more impressed with themselves with each speech. (A lot of people are going to have their knives out when the Daniels get around to making their third film.) EEAAO‘s editor went on for a bit too long, which is actually kind of a funny thing for an editor to do. Michelle Yeoh’s speech was classy and should be used as a guide who ever wonders what to say when accepting an award.
I was kind of dreading the prospect of Jimmy Kimmel hosting but I thought he did a good job. Other than throwing in a few heavy-handed political jabs towards the end, Kimmel struck the right tone for the show. Jimmy certainly seemed to have a better handle on things than Amy Schumer, Wanda Sykes, and Regina Hall did last year. Of course, unlike those three, Kimmel didn’t have to deal with any nominees walking on stage and striking a presenter.
As far as the musical performances go, the performance of RRR‘s nominated song was a lot of fun and I also thought Lady Gaga did a wonderful job with her song. The other performances didn’t do much for me, though none of them were particularly bad. They were just kind of safe. The fact that EEAAO got a nomination for that song should have been everyone’s first clue that the Academy was going to love the movie.
The ceremony this year was controlled and boring and, most importantly, it’s now over. Now, we can start talking about what’s going to win in 2024!
Like all good Italian crime films, 1972’s Long Arm of the Godfather opens with an absurdly over-the-top act of violence. In this case, a young gangster names Vincenzo (Peter Lee Lawrence) masterminds the hijacking of a delivery of Italian army weapons. It’s gangsters versus soldiers as a ludicrous amount of bullets are fired and even a few grenades are tossed through the air. The violence goes on for so long that actually starts to feel as if the film has become self-aware and is parodying the expectations of the audience. The film seems to be saying, “You want violence? Take this!”
That said, Vincenzo eventually does get away with a truck of weapons. He’s suppose to deliver the truck to Don Carmelo (Adolfo Celi, who is probably best-known for playing James Bond’s nemesis in Thunderball) but Vincenzo has other ideas. After running Carmelo off the road, Vincenzo drives off on his own. His plan is to sell the weapons and use the money to start a new life with prostitute girlfriend, Sabina (Erika Blanc). Unfortunately, because Vincenzo doesn’t have any money, he can’t pay anyone to help him unload the truck. Eventually, he deals with that problem by stealing and selling Sabina’s jewelry. Understandably, Sabina is not happy about this but Vincenzo has an even bigger problem to deal with.
It turns out that Don Carmelo is still alive. Even when Vincenzo and Sabina leave Italy for North Africa and attempt to make a deal to sell the weapons to a group of terrorists, Don Carmelo and his men are following close behind. It all leads to even more violence and an appropriately fatalistic ending. The film’s ultimate message is that there is no escape from a life of crime. There is no way to avoid the long of arm of the godfather.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the film is that all of the characters pretty much hate each other even before the inevitable betrayals begin. Don Carmelo appears to dislike all of his men and most of his men appear to dislike him to. Even the people who help Vincenzo make little secret of the fact that they can’t stand to be around him. The main exception to all of this mutual dislike is Vincenzo himself. Vincenzo appears to sincerely like (if not quite love) Sabina. Sabina, on the other hand, spends the majority of the film talking about how everything is Vincenzo’s fault. She knows that Vincenzo is in over his head but, at the same time, she also knows that there’s a chance Vincenzo could make a lot of money so she sticks with him. As for Vincenzo, he’s an eternal optimist, trying to find hope even when its clear that there’s none left. Vincenzo may be clever but he’s not particularly smart and that is destined to be his eventual downfall.
Long Arm of the Godfather is an unapologetically pulpy thriller, one in which both the violence and the melodrama are frequently over the top. It’s a film that will be appreciated by fans of hard-boiled crime fiction and Italian exploitation films. Celi is properly intimidating as Don Carmelo while Peter Lee Lawrence gives a charismatic performance as Vincenzo. Tragically, Lawrence would die two years after starring in Long Arm of the Godfather, a victim of a brain tumor that went undetected until it was too late. He was 30 years old and, had he lived, he undoubtedly would have been a big star in European cinema. Fortuntely, one can still watch him in a film like this and see hints of what could have been.
In the 1977 film, Mr. Mean, Fred Williamson plays the title role.
He’s a former employee of the Cosa Nostra who now works as a sort of private investigator. He’s cool. He’s hip. He’s sexy. He’s Fred Williamson! But the best thing about him is that his name actually is Mr. Mean. Everyone in the film literally calls him “Mr. Mean.” He introduces himself as being “Mr. Mean.” The people who are closest to him occasionally leave out the “Mister” and just call him “Mean.”
The film begins with a woman approaching Fred Williamson on a basketball court and saying to him, “Hey, is your name Mr. Mean?”
Later, when he calls his office to check his messages, he tells his secretary, “This is Mr. Mean.”
When he goes to his favorite bar, he’s approached by two members of Ohio Players, the band behind Fire and Love Rollercoaster. They tell him that they are such big fans of him and his reputation that they’ve actually written a song about him. The song is called “Mr. Mean.” They proceed to play the song over the opening credits. For his part, Mr. Mean does not appear to be impressed. That said, I imagine the Ohio Players were probably happier to be playing for Mr. Mean and than for the Brady Bunch.
Mr. Mean is summoned to Italy by a mob boss who wants Mr. Mean to do one last job. He wants Mr. Mean to assassinate a rival gangster, Huberto (Lou Castel). Mr. Mean explains that he may be a fighter and lover but he’s not a killer. However, Mr. Mean then learns that Huberto has been running a scam charity, stealing money that people are donating to help fight hunger in Africa. Mr. Mean takes on the contract. However, Huberto knows that Mr. Mean is in Italy to take him out so Huberto hires an assassin named Rommell (Raimund Harmstorf) to take out Mr. Mean first.
Judging from the endless shots of Mr. Mean casually walking through Rome, it doesn’t appear that either man is in much of a hurry to get the job done. Mr. Mean even takes time to pursue a romance with the mysterious Rene (Crippy Yocard). What little action there is comes to a complete halt so the film can give us a lengthy scene of Mr. Mean and Rene walking along the beach. Eventually, it turns out that Rene has a secret of her own and, for a few minutes, it seems like Mr. Mean might become yet another Fred Williamson film to feature a sudden downbeat finale. But no worries! Mr. Mean may be mean but he’s also clever!
(Actually, Mr. Mean turns out to be a surprisingly nice guy so I’m not really sure how he got that nickname.)
The film’s plot is next to impossible to really summarize because the plot doesn’t make any sense. The story feels like it was made up on the spot, probably because it was. Reportedly, Fred Williamson shot this film while he was in Italy to make Inglorious Bastards. He would spend the week working on Bastards and then, on the weekend, he would borrow the film’s equipment and crew and secretly work on Mr. Mean. He wrote the script while filming. The result is a film that meanders without adding up to much. The main theme of Mr. Mean appears to be that Fred Williamson was Fred Williamson’s biggest fan.
Mr. Mean is one of Fred Williamson’s lesser films. Though he didn’t necessarily have a wide range as an actor, Fred Williamson had charisma and a lot of style and confidence. All of that is on display in Mr. Mean but the film itself is impossible to follow and ultimately just feels like an extended home movie. Mr. Mean just isn’t mean enough to be memorable.
Released in 1993 and produced by none other than Roger Corman, Fire on the Amazon takes place in Bolivia. Despite the protests of the indigenous population and the environmental activists who have flown down to support them, the Rain Forest is being destroyed by corporations, cattle ranchers, and military units. After an activist named Rafael Santos (Eduardo Cesti) is assassinated, photojournalist R.J. O’Brien (Craig Sheffer) comes down to document the accused assassin’s trial.
R.J. tries to remain detached from the injustices that he sees around him. Much like Robert Forster in Medium Cool, R.J. claims to be an observer and not a participant. But then he meets an environmentalist named Alyssa Rothman (a pre-stardom Sandra Bullock) and he comes to realize that the Bolivian government is covering up the details of Santos’s death. R.J. and Alyssa go deep into the Rain Forest, searching for evidence that can prove that the military was behind the assassination. The military, of course, is determined to keep them from doing that.
Fire on the Amazon is a Roger Corman films with a social conscience. It features several speeches about the importance of the Rain Forest and it ends with a title card informing viewers of how much of the Rain Forest was destroyed on a daily basis in 1993. Whatever else one might have to say about the films that Corman has either produced or directed, he has always seemed very sincere when it comes to his messages. That said, Corman has also always been very sincere in his belief that movies should make money and Fire on the Amazon doesn’t allow its environmental message to get in the way of the sex and violence that most of the film’s viewers were probably looking for. The film actually feels a bit like a companion piece to The Forbidden Dance. Yes, saving the Rain Forest is importance but so is doing the Lambada.
Today, if Fire on the Amazon is known for anything, it’s probably for the rather random sex scene featuring Sandra Bullock and Craig Sheffer. To be honest, while the scene is graphic and lengthy, the only thing that sets it apart from other low-budget sex scenes is the fact that it features a future Oscar winner. A huge problem with the scene is that there are next to no romantic sparks between Bullock and Craig Sheffer. Indeed, Sheffer gives such a lifeless performance that, at one point, it appears that he’s actually fallen asleep during the big sex scene. Fortunately, Sheffer sticks out his tongue long enough to let us know that he’s still alive.
Make no mistake about it, while Sandra Bullock may be the name that’s highlighted whenever this film shows up on a streaming site, Craig Sheffer is the star of the film. The majority of the film focuses on him as he wanders around Bolivia and whines about having to do his job. Though he’s certainly not helped by the film’s script, Sheffer gives a performance that alternates between sleep-walking and histrionic shouting. The problem is that the only time Sheffer shows any emotion is when his character has been inconvenienced. He can watch the police beat up a man without barely lifting an eyebrow but, as soon as he’s arrested and put in a cell, the audience is subjected to over a minute of Sheffer shrilly screaming, “Call the embassy!”
It would be nice to say that Sandra Bullock gives a performance that transcends the material but, unfortunately, she’s miscast as a somber activist and, worst of all, she gets stuck with the film’s worst line when she tells Sheffer to write about what “you feel and not what you see.” It seems like better advice would be to do both but what do I know? I mean, as of right now, it seems like people focusing on what they feel as opposed to what they see has led to a lot of problems but maybe the 90s were a simpler time.
Just a year after this film was released, Sandra Bullock would star in Speedand become a star. This meant that Bullock would no longer be filming sex scenes in Roger Corman-produced eco-thrillers. It also meant that Fire on the Amazon would forever be promoted on DVD and Blu-ray as being a “Sandra Bullock film” while Craig Sheffer would often go unmentioned. (In Sheffer’s defense, he’s still acting and has given many performances that are a hundred times better than his work in Fire on the Amazon.) If you want to see a good film about Sandra Bullock in the jungle, check out The Lost City. If you want to see an entertaining environmentally-themed thriller from director Luis Llosa, check out Anaconda. Worthy intentions aside, Fire on the Amazon is best avoided.
Haunted by the death of his teenage daughter and the subsequent collapse of his marriage, William Dorn (Chuck Conners) feels that society is changing too quickly. He misses the days when people were polite and followed the law. Now, he’s upset that he can’t even walk around Los Angeles without seeing people littering. The waitress at the local diner has forgotten the importance of smiling while taking her customer’s order. Hospitals are full of doctors who don’t care about their patients. The colleges are full of long-haired drug pushers. His ex-wife is attending a consciousness raising seminar. William has had it with the 1970s so he decides to start blowing stuff up.
William starts to wander around Los Angeles. Usually, he’s carrying a brown paper sack and, inside the sack, he’s got a ticking time bomb. He always wears the same suit and thick glasses and yet, somehow, no one ever seems to notice or remember him. Even though all of his bombs are timebombs, they still go off within seconds of him planting them, which means that he’s usually only standing a few feet away with they explode. William also sends the police tape-recorded manifestos without making any effort to disguise his voice. William may not be the smartest criminal around but that still doesn’t stop him from terrorizing the city.
Detective Geronimo Minelli (Vince Edwards) is determined to track down the mad bomber, even if it means yelling at everyone that he meets. Minelli is one of those intense detectives who doesn’t care about what the Supreme Court has to say about the rights of suspects and the accused. Unfortunately, the only witness who can identify the bomb is George Fromley (Neville Brand), a sex offender who doesn’t want to admit that he saw the bomber blow up a hospital because he was busy assaulting one of the patients at the time. Can Minelli convince Fromley to provide a physical description of the bomber? And will William Dorn ever realize that it’s probably not a good idea to store a bunch of ticking time bombs in his basement?
First released in 1972 and also known as The Police Connection, Bert I. Gordon’s The Mad Bomber is unique amongst Gordon’s films in that it doesn’t feature any giant animals or killer bugs. In this film, the monsters are all human and don’t have any convenient excuses for their behavior. Though Neville Brand does a good job with the role, George Fromley is still probably one of the most unlikable and despicable characters to ever appear in the movie. Meanwhile. Vince Edwards plays Minelli as being the type of cop who is one bad day away from massively violating someone’s civil rights during a traffic stop. The film does build up some sympathy for William Dorn, with still shots of his daughter used to show us what’s going through Dorn’s mind as he plants his bombs. But then it tosses all that sympathy away by having him target a meeting of feminists, apparently because he blames them for his wife leaving him.
The main problem with the film is that we’re expected to believe that someone who looks like this would be able to walk around Los Angeles and plant bombs without anyone noticing.
That’s nothing against Chuck Conners, who does a good job of portraying William’s frustration with the world. But still, it’s hard to believe that no one is going to notice a dude who is nearly seven feet tall and who is carrying a ticking shopping bag.
Flaws and all, The Mad Bomber is a watchable and occasionally even an engrossing film. It’s certainly one Gordon’s better efforts and Gordon does a good job of creating and maintaining a properly ominous atmosphere, even if it sometimes hard to take seriously the sight of Chuck Conners, lumbering around in his suit and trying to discreetly drop off bombs. In many ways, it’s a film that still feels relevant today. William, like so many. is trying to forcefully stop the world from changing around him. He’s a man who has lost anything and has decided that it’s the fault of everyone else. (In many ways, he’s like Rainn Wilson in Super, ragefully reacting to a world is not as simple as he believes it should be.) The Mad Bomber may not be as much fun as Gordon’s giant monster films but it’s still a film that has something to say.
The 1974 film, The Black Godfather, opens with two black men attempting to break into the house of a white drug dealer. Unfortunately, the drug dealer happens to be home. Both of the men are shot. One dies in the alley. The other, J.J. (Rod Perry), is shot in the arm but survives.
J.J. may not have been able to rob the dealer but his bravery impresses Nate Williams (Jimmy Whitherspoon), a powerful neighborhood crime lord. Nate allows J.J. to hide out at his place and, while J.J. heals, Nate offers up some advice on how to survive on the streets. J.J. says that he’s only interested in making some “bread,” but Nate thinks that J.J. has what it takes to become one of the top men in his organization.
One opening credits montage later and J.J. has indeed become a powerful man on the streets. Though he may sell drugs, J.J. is a gangster with a conscience. As he explains to his old friend, Diablo (Damu King), there’s no way to create change unless you make some money beforehand. Diablo is a political militant who has no interest in working with J.J. until he discovers that J.J. is planning on running Tony (Don Chastain) out of the neighborhood. Tony is a white gangster who has made a fortune by destroying black communities with heroin. Diablo and his followers become J.J.’s enforcers as he wages war against Tony.
Unfortunately, the always pragmatic Nate doesn’t want J.J. to wage war against Tony. Nate believes that it is important to keep the peace. That Nate is tying to prevent a war doesn’t matter to Tony, of course. As soon as Tony finds out that J.J. has been seeing Nate’s daughter, Yvonne (Diane Sommerfeld), he makes his move.
Made at the height of the Blaxploitation era, The Black Godfather‘s title brings to mind memories of Don Corleone, Michael, Sonny, and Tom Hagen. And it is true that the wise and patient Nate does, in many ways, come across like a black version of Don Corleone. Nate is pragmatic and cautious almost to a fault. Just as Don Corleone resisted going to the war with the Tattaglias, Nate resists going to war with Tony. (And, much like the Tattaglias, Tony proves himself to be unworthy of Nate’s generosity.) However, J.J. has far more in common with Sonny than with Michael. Unlike the calculating and patient Michael, J.J. is in a hurry to prove that he’s the most powerful gangster in the community. Like Sonny, J.J. doesn’t hesitate before striking back at his enemies.
Unfortunately, despite having an intriguing premise, The Black Godfather is a bit of a chore to sit through. The story moves slowly and even the scenes of gangster violence feel rather rudimentary. Rod Perry projects a confident charisma and Jimmy Witherspoon does a good job as the wise Nate but otherwise, the cast is stiff and unconvincing. It’s a shame. The mix of crime and militant politics had potential. Early on, Diablo and J.J. debate whether or not good can come out of bad, with J.J. arguing that money can get a lot more done than idealism. It’s a debate that’s still relevant today but it’s also an issue that the film abandons fairly quickly. Based on the film’s title, I had some hope for The Black Godfather but, in the end, it’s just too slow and amateurish to really be memorable.